IN WHAT is now Scottish football’s top derby, at least until Rangers return to the top flight or draw Celtic in a cup, Hibs manager Pat Fenlon will lead his men to Tynecastle today to face a chastened and survival-seeking Hearts.
Fenlon faced similar crises as Hearts when he managed League of Ireland side Shelbourne, who almost went under in 2006. Asked if he shared the Hibs fans’ view that Hearts are now paying for years of profligacy, Fenlon was cagey.
“I have been in this situation myself but I haven’t really looked into Hearts too much,” said Fenlon. “I’ve got enough to think about here. You don’t want to see any football club go out of business, whether it’s Hearts or Rangers or anybody else, and, hopefully, Dunfermline have come through it now.
“There’s a saying ‘you make your bed and you lie in it’ and that’s just the way it is – not just in football but in every walk of life.”
His own experience in Dublin was a steep learning curve. “We got to a situation where we hadn’t been paid for maybe ten or 12 weeks, but Shelbourne made sure they paid their debts and they are still going and great credit to them for the way they behaved,” said Fenlon.
“As a manager, when people are not being paid, that’s difficult, as you’re the one who has brought them to the club.
“You try and deal with it as best you can because everybody is in the same boat. You try and sit the players down and give them options, but with transfer windows, players can’t go anywhere and you’re not left with a lot of options.
“At the time we were up there trying to win a league and doing really well, so you say ‘you can either down tools and forget about it or we can keep going and try to win it for ourselves’ and fortunately we won it.
“When you end up with people not being paid and there’s obviously lots of things going on outside of the club and you’re trying to deal with people who are trying to pay their bills, get their messages and pay the mortgage, well you don’t get told anything on coaching courses about how you deal with that.”
Not that Fenlon would like to see Hearts out of the SPFL Premiership. “With the Old Firm derby not being there this is the next biggest one, and from the club and the support’s point of view it’s great that it’s still there.
“It’s important revenue for Hearts at the weekend and it’s important revenue for us during the course of the season. The two derbies earn a lot of money for both clubs, and if you want to progress and bring in better players then your revenue streams have to be good.
“It’s where you want to be involved in football. You’re going into the lion’s den a little bit, and that’s what gets the pulses going. If you’re a player or a coach and you don’t enjoy going there then you’re in the wrong business.”
Hibs’ 0-9 aggregate humiliation against Malmo in the Europa League qualifiers is gone but not forgotten, according to Fenlon. “All footballers will say that you always remember them, but the next game is about three points for us. We felt we should have got at least a point against Motherwell and we didn’t, but you want to try to pick up a result and get on the board as quick as possible.
“Going to Tynecastle is a tough enough venue so if we can pick up three points there it will be a big lift for everybody.
“They didn’t win at the weekend so they’re thinking ‘if we can pick up three points it will give us momentum’ and we are saying the same – if we can go to our biggest rivals and win there that will give us momentum.”
Much has been made of the youthful nature of the Hearts team, but Fenlon is happy with his own youngsters and a Battle of Youth could ensue, albeit with a warning to his tyros.
“It is a different type of game,” said Fenlon, “and there’s a lot of stuff you have to get across to the players. Sometimes when you get into that situation when it’s frantic and madness you can get carried away about little things, so it’s important that we concentrate.
“We have a lot of young boys in the squad at the moment, and a lot of the young players who have come in during the last six months have done really well.
“Jordon Forster came into the derby at the end of last season and was fantastic. Sammy Stanton has come back and has had a really good pre-season and is making real progress – we have high hopes for Sammy in the future.”
The bad news for the Hibs fans is that club captain James McPake is some weeks away from returning to the side after suffering a recurrence of his back injury. “He is probably not going to play for two or three weeks, maybe a bit longer,” said Fenlon. “He’s had another scan but I would hope by the end of next week we would have a clearer picture of where he’s going, but it doesn’t look as if the injury is as serious as thought at the time.”
James Collins is another youngster that Fenlon may start today. The former Swindon striker, left, said: “The boys are focused on a massive, massive game. If I get the nod then I am really looking forward to it.
“I have only played in little local derbies down in England, such as Swindon v Oxford, and that was quite tasty.
“I have played in front of 56,000 against Arsenal at the Emirates, so a big crowd won’t be a problem. But I know what it means to the fans here and the boys want to do it for them.”